i wanted to share with you all one of my greatest loves from the world of myth and story, and to my eyes and ears, one of the greatest of the world's
mysterious and magical tales - The Kalevala
The Kalevala is an epic poem in Finnish, compiled and published in the nineteenth century by Elias Lonnrot from stories and songs that he collected
while travelling and working in Karelia - stories and songs that had once been the staple of Finnish folklore but were starting to disappear.
Full of adventure, shamanic magic, jealousy, betrayal, gods, tragedy, and finally triumph... it's a great shame that this is relatively unknown
outside of Finland where it is considered the national epic - for me it easily rivals the tales of Cuchullain, King Arthur, the Volsungs and any
others. It was much loved by Tolkien and the influence of it can be seen in The Silmarillion, both in the Ainulindale and the story of Turin
Turambar..... If just one new person picks up a copy because of this, then i will be a happy man!
i lost my copy three or four years ago, and have not replaced it yet to my shame, but this is the edition i would recommend due to the poetic
translation (it's a hefty book, the term epic is not used lightly here)
older translations may suffer in being much heavier reads due to idiom etc, beware, but here is the sacred texts link..
The Story is enormous in scope and i could not hope to give a precy of it here, but i want to give some tasters for the curious
Beginning with the creation of the world as the Daughter of the Air grows to become the Water-Mother and we see the world bought into being from a
duck's egg; The first man, Vainamoinen is finally born from her after struggling for an age to escape her womb..
the already old and grey Vainamoinen is the main protagonist, a wily shaman whose voice is magic itself - some have argued that he is an ancient god
of the Karelians, others that he was a real shaman in ancient times.
In the early parts of the story he helps to fill the world with plants, travels inside a great giant in the earth to gain wisdom, reveals the origins
of iron in a magical episode to heal a terrible axe wound, and battles with an arrogant young shaman/singer... using his magical songs to transform
every belonging of his rival, eventually bringing him close to death as he sings him back into the earth only to be saved by a bargain that ends in
tragedy. The defeated shaman promises his siser Aino to the lonely Vainamoinen, only for her to reject him and drown herself
as he continues to look for a wife, he ends stranded in the mysterious Northland. The mistress who rules here agrees to return the wizard to his home
for a price - she wants him to convince the great smith, Ilmarinen (another main figure in Finnish myth/paganism) to forge "The Sampo" - she will even
offer the smith a bride in return.
now the story weaves and wends it's way amongst a variety of characters and events, and is dark and mysterious in it's tone, dealing with magical elk
and pike, curses, magical weapons, the land of the dead and many other features that will have lovers of myth and legend, as well as readers of
fantasy drooling all over their laps as they read, but The Sampo with it magical powers is the real element of mystery in The Kalevala.
It is unclear exactly what this item is - though it is of great power and brings "horn of plenty" type powers to it's owner - it is often represented
as a grain mill that can produce anything the owner desires
the Sampo is forged by Ilmarinen, a legendary smith, as a task set by the Mistress of Pohjola in return for her daughter's hand.
"Ilmarinen, worthy brother,
Thou the only skilful blacksmith,
Go and see her wondrous beauty,
See her gold and silver garments,
See her robed in finest raiment,
See her sitting on the rainbow,
Walking on the clouds of purple.
Forge for her the magic Sampo,
Forge the lid in many colors,
Thy reward shall be the virgin,
Thou shalt win this bride of beauty;
Go and bring the lovely maiden
To thy home in Kalevala."
Ilmarinen works for several days at a mighty forge until finally the Sampo is created:
On one side the flour is grinding,
On another salt is making,
On a third is money forging,
And the lid is many-colored.
Well the Sampo grinds when finished,
To and fro the lid in rocking,
Grinds one measure at the day-break,
Grinds a measure fit for eating,
Grinds a second for the market,
Grinds a third one for the store-house..
so begins the rest of the story, Ilmarinen's promised marriage fails, the land suffers for the loss of the Sampo (while the Northland, possessing the
Sampo flourishes) and Vainamoinen and Ilmarinen's mythic quest to recover the Sampo and bring it home begins.
JRR Tolkien was ofc an expert on northern european myth and the Kalevala was a favourite of his - one of the more prominent figures in the Kalevala is
the tragic Kullervo
Kullervo is acknowledged as the template used for Turin Turambar and his story is an unsurprisingly grim one - his people are killed, he is taken into
slavery and has magical powers and a terrible temper. In his journeys he seduces a girl who turns out to be his long lost sister and out of horror at
what they have done she commits suicide. Kullervo obtains a magical sword and eventually gains the revenge that has obsessed him - his part in the
story then ends when he offers the sentient magical sword his life, which it eagerly accepts (shades of Moorcock and Stormbringer here too).
I would love to know more about the Sampo and i know we have some Finnish members here - perhaps they could share their thoughts if they come across
this thread. The Kalevala has found it's way into many elements of Finnish culture, not just some fabulous art which it has been my pleasure to
include here, but the music of Sibelius as well as modern metal bands like Ensiferum amongst other things.
i could fill pages writing about how much i love this story, and of the rich adventure and high strangeness that readers will discover, but i do not
wish to re-tell a story that already fills some seven hundred pages of verse when i could not do justice to it - go out and read it folks - it's one
of the world's literary treasures and a window into the past, i hope some of you find a copy and enjoy it as much as i did.
edit on 18-3-2013 by skalla because: clarity, the typos i managed to spot